Interest rates, subprime loans, and warnings from the Bible

Seriously – the Bible warns about high interest rates and subprime loans?  How can that be?  There weren’t any Wall Street banks or investment companies.  If Wall Street even existed, it would maybe have been the path along the Wailing Wall along the west side of the temple.  But that’s a whole different kind of wall.  Although, not entirely unrelated.

Interest rates, subprime loans, and the warnings from the BibleEven without “Big Banks” and “Big Business”, people were plenty capable of taking advantage of each other, even back in the time of the book of Exodus.  Surprised?

The headline, Defaults on subprime auto loans are soaring, is what got me thinking about this.  However, it’s something that wasn’t in the article that made my decision on whether or not to actually write something.

More about that later.  See if you can figure out what’s missing.

Interest Rates and subprime loans

The first occurrence of the word “interest” in the Bible comes in Exodus.

Ex 22:25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, 27 because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

No big deal anymore, right?  People don’t actually take coats as collateral for loans these days.  And loans are done through companies – not person to person so much.  Charging interest is just part of doing business.  It’s done by companies and corporations. Not by people.  And how can any commandment from God be directed at companies?  So this whole passage, and the thoughts in it, are irrelevant today.  Or are they?

Here’s the thing.  Whether it be a small company or a large corporation, ultimately it’s headed by people.  So the question becomes, are individual people, God’s people, absolved of responsibility for following God’s commands as soon as they become part of an impersonal company?  That seems to be what happens.  But that doesn’t necessarily make it right.  In fact, check out what James wrote:

Warning to Rich Oppressors

Jas 5:1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Rich oppressors.  That’s the title.  Although, the words in the text appear to be “rich people“.  Since I said appear to be, you should be wondering what the words really are.  Actually, it’s one word.  The NIV English subtitle is based on the context of the entire section.  What James wrote is just the one word, seen below, with the context also provided by the rest of the section.  We’ll see why the context is important, since the Greek word, by itself, can have two very different connotations:

4145 πλούσιος [plousios /ploo·see·os/] adj. From 4149; TDNT 6:318; TDNTA 873; GK 4454; 28 occurrences; AV translates as “rich” 28 times. 1 wealthy, abounding in material resources. 2 metaph. abounding, abundantly supplied. 2A abounding (rich) in Christian virtues and eternal possessions.  [1]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

So that word translated as “rich people” could be mean people who are rich in terms of worldly wealth.  But it could also be people who are rich in Christian values and eternal possessions.  Two very different, and mutually exclusive, sets of people.

For this particular topic, I’m actually addressing that group of people who things they are in the second group, but are actually in the first.  In other words, people who think they’re Christians, but really aren’t.  To give an example of the kinds of people James is talking about, here’s one of the other three times in the entire New Testament where the Greek word 4145 πλούσιος [plousios /ploo·see·os/] is used:

Rev 6:15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

The reference is Revelation is for the people who are hiding from the wrath of God.  People who are so arrogant as to think it’s actually possible.  Think about what that means for the rich (4145 πλούσιος [plousios /ploo·see·os/]) person who thinks they are Christian.  Followers of Jesus.  And yet, ultimately end up trying to hide from God.  That’s not a good place to be.

Let’s look at one more thing before moving on.  It’s the other time James used that same Greek word to talk about the rich people.

Favoritism Forbidden

Jas 2:1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Jas 2:5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Jas 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Jas 2:12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

James addresses the poor people.  And tells them it’s the rich who have been exploiting them.  Now, for the people in positions of power in corporations, isn’t that exactly what happens?  Even the simple term favoritism.  Isn’t that exactly what happens?  Let’s look at that word, from the Greek it’s translated from.

4382 προσωπολημψία, προσωποληψία [prosopolepsia /pros·o·pol·ape·see·ah/] n f. From 4381; TDNT 6:779; TDNTA 950; GK 4721 and 4724; Four occurrences; AV translates as “respect of persons” four times. 1 respect of persons. 2 partiality. 2A the fault of one who when called on to give judgment has respect of the outward circumstances of man and not to their intrinsic merits, and so prefers, as the more worthy, one who is rich, high born, or powerful, to another who does not have these qualities.  [2]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Maybe you give preferential treatment to your rich clients.  And yes, even it’s under the guise of a corporation, if you’re the decision maker, it’s you giving preferential treatment.  Or maybe you decide against a poor client, or refuse to service a poor client, because it won’t generate enough profit.

Or, what happens today, loans are made to poor people even though they probably shouldn’t have been made.  That way, if it’s for a home loan when the loan isn’t paid back the person can be evicted and the home reverts to you / your company.

And those are exactly the kinds of things that take us full circle back to the starting point.

Ex 22:25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, 27 because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

In my example, it’s not a cloak.  It’s a house.  It’s the only thing a family has over their heads at night.  It’s the only place they have to sleep.  Sure – you say they can go to a shelter.  Or live in the streets.  However, if you’re Christian, don’t forget that last sentence – When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.  God will show compassion when we don’t.  Maybe not in this life.  But for sure in the next.

There’s an instance of a variation of the Greek word we’ve been looking at.  The one that means “rich”.  Jesus used it in a passage I’m pretty sure you’ll remember.

Lk 18:23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

This is an example of a man who wants to be a follower of Jesus, but doesn’t do it because of what Jesus said.  However, if we go back to James, we also see an example, using the very same Greek word, for the person who thinks they’re Christian, but really aren’t.

Trials and Temptations

Jas 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Jas 1:9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.  That last paragraph is a lesson about opposites.  The humble person is higher in God’s eyes that the rich person.  Ultimately, the rich person will fade away.  The key is whether or not the rich person understands the one who is rich should take pride in his low position.  If the rich person realizes they are in a low position in God’s eyes, there’s a chance to do something about it.

For a Christian who is rich, this is something to watch out for.  If we get to be rich because we oppress the poor, then we are in a low position in God’s eyes.  We fall into the wrong category of people in what Jesus said:

Treasures in Heaven

6:22, 23 pp — Lk 11:34-36

Mt 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Mt 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Mt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

For the alleged Christian who gets rich by oppressing the poor, this isn’t good news.  This is Jesus warning that riches gained in that manner turn us away from Him.

In the very beginning of the last passage from James, we read the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  I can’t help but wonder if the testing doesn’t sometimes involve walking away from positions that would put us in the place of having to oppress the poor as part of our jobs.

I have turned down both job offers and promotions because I either knew or expected that I’d have to do things that would conflict with the way a Christian should live.  Yes, I would have made more money.  And yes, I’d be in a better place now that I’m retired, since I could have made significantly more money during my working years.  And yet, I turned them down because I’ was more concerned about the long-term effect on me, my soul, and where I’d be in the next life.

I think those are concerns whether we work for ourselves, a small company, a large corporation, a governmental entity, whatever.  Ultimate;y it’s still between us and people.  Between us and God.

interest rates and subprime loans – more commands from Exodus

That opening excerpt from Exodus, the one regarding interest, comes after the Ten Commandments, in a section the NIV titles Social Responsibilities.  Maybe it’s tempting to think that it’s not actually part of the Ten Commandments, so it’s not that big of a deal if we ignore it.  There’s a problem with that line of thought.

Idols

Ex 20:4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

When money becomes our idol (or one of our idols), then it is a problem.  It’s a violation of the passage above.  Just in case you don’t recognize it, it is one of the Ten Commandments.  When the love of money brings us to the point of charging “unreasonable” interest rates – that is a problem.

Maybe you’re Christian.  And you say this doesn’t apply to you.  Especially if you’ve read, and completely misunderstood, Andy Stanley’s book Irresistible.  One of the comments against this book is:

Stanley spends about half the book demonstrating that the Old Covenant is just that – old. In other words, it’s not binding on Christians. And while he’s correct in this regard, the way he speaks about both the Old Covenant and the Old Testament make it sound like they don’t matter at all for Christians. As if you can forget about the Old Testament altogether because it’s really not that important compared to Jesus.

His emphasis on the newness of what Christ achieved makes it sound like it was something completely disconnected from the Old Testament, instead of the glorious fulfillment of everything.

To be sure, my own impression, early on in the book, wasn’t far from this.  However, I was also thinking that Andy Stanley was completely ignoring something Jesus said:

The Greatest Commandment – Matthew

22:34-40 pp — Mk 12:28-31

Mt 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Mt 22:37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

How could Jesus be saying in anywhere in the New Testament that the Old Testament wasn’t worth the scrolls they were printed on after His arrival and the New Covenant?  It makes no sense.  By extension, how could Andy Stanley possibly claim Jesus said anything even remotely like that?  Well, if you read the whole book, he didn’t.

If we continue to read, no matter how upset we might be and probably should be, we do finally read:

This is the first time in recorded history that these two Old Testament statements were combined in this way. The first statement makes its debut in Deuteronomy. The other appears first in Leviticus. But this unique formula is original with Jesus. This was new. This was yet another in a series of statements pointing to the change that was coming.

The majority of commentators are convinced Jesus’ point was that there were actually two greatest commandments. The second commandment was not second in importance. It was second in sequence. The reason most commentators interpret Jesus’ statement this way is the phrase “is like it.” The command that comes second in the sequence of commands was equally as great or important as the first one. It was “like it” in magnitude and significance. The lawyer’s question was front-loaded with an assumption. In this case, a false assumption.

Got kids?

Which one is greatest?

The question assumes something that’s probably (hopefully) not true. The question assumes one of your children is greater than the other or others. Who am I to make that assumption? Similarly, what gave this lawyer the right to assume one commandment was greater than all the others? Perhaps that was the trap. Whatever the case, Jesus didn’t allow himself to be boxed in by the assumption behind the question. There wasn’t one greatest commandment. There were two. According to Jesus, these two commands summed up the Jewish Scriptures. Not just the law . . . the entire old covenant.  [3]Stanley, Andy. Irresistible (pp. 182-183). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

And so Andy Stanley ends up saying something along the lines of something I’ve written many times before.  Jesus didn’t wipe out the Old Testament.  However, rather than having a whole bunch of “don’t do this …” kinds of statements, Jesus reduced the entire Old Testament Law – all of it – down to two “do this …” statements.  Amazingly enough, although it shouldn’t be, Jesus didn’t reduce the Law.  He actually expanded it greatly.

Five times, we read in the Gospels where Jesus said, You have heard that it was said.  Here’s one of them:

Love for Enemies – Matthew

Mt 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

That’s one huge change from what the Jewish people learned about the Old Covenant.  In just these few words, Jesus turned things entirely on their head.  His followers were told to love even their enemies.

But guess what?  Even that short passage that so drastically changed what the Jewish leaders were teaching?  It was included in those two greatest commandments.  As such, they are part of the way Christians should live.  Even in our jobs.

Continuing – there’s more than one of the Ten Commandments at risk when we get into high interest rates and subprime loans.

Stealing

Ex 20:15 “You shall not steal.”

Ouch!  Stealing?  Is that going a bit too far?  All we’re talking about is earning a living, right?  Let’s see what “stealing” is about.

The Prohibition of Theft (Ex 20:15; Dt 5:19). The eighth commandment establishes a principle within the covenant community concerning possessions and property; a person had a right to certain things, which could not be violated by a fellow citizen for his or her personal advantage. But while the commandment is concerned with property, its most fundamental concern is human liberty. The worst form of theft is “manstealing” (somewhat equivalent to modern kidnapping); that is, taking a person (presumably by force) and selling him or her into slavery. The crime and the related law are stated more fully in Deuteronomy 24:7.

The commandment is thus not only concerned with the preservation of private property, but is more fundamentally concerned with the preservation of human liberty, freedom from such things as slavery and exile. It prohibits a person from manipulating or exploiting the lives of others for personal gain. Just as the sixth commandment prohibits murder, so the eighth prohibits what might be called “social murder,” that is, the cutting off of a man or woman from a life of freedom within the community of God’s people.  [4]Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Ten Commandments, The. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2044). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Human liberty.  Selling someone into slavery.  Actually, let’s look at that slavery part.  Slavery has and should have a very specific and negative connotation today.  So it’s important that we look at what was actually meant in Dt 24:7.

Here’s the NIV translation:

Dt 24:7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.  [5]The New International Version. (2011). (Dt 24:7). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

The 1900  King James says:

7 If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die;  [6]The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Dt 24:7). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Here’s the reality of the Hebrew though.  There are no words that directly translate to “as a slave”.  Making merchandise and selling are there.  Please note, I am not making light of selling a person.  However, I do want to take out the slavery part of it, in order to show that what happens all too often today, even in many businesses, runs counter to the command in Deuteronomy 24:7.  The prohibitions relate to two key Hebrew words that get translated as “treating” and “selling” in the NIV.

6014 עָמַר, עָמַר [ʿamar /aw·mar/] v. A primitive root; TWOT 1645, 1646; GK 6682 and 6683; Three occurrences; AV translates as “merchandise” twice, and “sheaves” once. 1 to bind sheaves. 1A (Piel) to gather. 2 to manipulate, deal tyrannically with. 2A (Hithpael) to treat as a slave.  [7]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

4376 מָכַר [makar /maw·kar/] v. A primitive root; TWOT 1194; GK 4835; 80 occurrences; AV translates as “sell” 75 times, “seller” four times, and “at all” once. 1 to sell. 1A (Qal). 1A1 to sell. 1A2 seller (participle). 1B (Niphal). 1B1 to be sold. 1B2 to sell oneself. 1B3 to be given over to death. 1C (Hithpael) to sell oneself.  [8]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Let’s get honest here.  Brutally honest.  Those definitions above are from the Old Testament times.  You know, the times when people were taught that they should be nice to friends and family – but not to enemies.  However, consider what Jesus said about enemies.  Now, we’re supposed to treat everyone with love.  We shouldn’t be treating anyone like merchandise.  We should be like tyrants over them.

Given that, here’s a question.  Is failure to make people work for something less than a living wage being tyrannical over them?  Isn’t it treating them like merchandise?  How is it right to employ someone to make, perform a service, Etc. for a business – and yet not pay them enough to live?  Is that treating people with love?  Answer – it’s not.

Even looking at the relationship between masers and actual slaves (although slaves in the Old Testament times and meanings), Paul wrote:

Slaves and Masters

Eph 6:5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

Eph 6:9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

This passage is for the masters in biblical times.  Today, it’s for the supervisors and managers, all the way up to the corporate boards.  God is watching.  For the non-Christian, they probably don’t care.  However, for the Christian who’s in one of those positions, God most certainly is watching.  If that’s you – do you think He likes what He sees the way you treat the people who work for you?

So – for those who like to hide behind the letter of the law, you can say you’re not stealing.  Maybe even stealing the liberty of another person?

But, what about the spirit of the law?  If that last section wasn’t clear enough, to learn something more about the spirit of the law, let’s turn to Jesus.

The Calling of Matthew – Matthew

Mt 9:9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

Mt 9:10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

Mt 9:12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

So, if we’re hiding behind the letter of the law and saying there’s nothing in this commandment about unreasonable interest rates, subprime loans, or the way we treat people in general, Jesus is saying we’ve got it wrong.  Even if we’re thinking something along the lines of I’ll make up for it in some way – Jesus is saying we’ve got it wrong.  Mercy is better.  Not even charging the unreasonable interest rates is better.  Not making that subprime loan is better.  Paying people enough wages to actually be able to live is better.  Then the unreasonable interest rates – like payday loans – won’t be necessary.  And the subprime mortgages won’t be necessary, because people will actually be able to afford to live where they work.

Oh – by the way – for those of you who realize this passage in Matthew was a quote of something else – very good.  For those that don’t, it comes from Hosea.

Hos 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Since Hosea is an Old Testament book, we should “update” this.  In New Testament terms, it would be something like “I desire mercy, not an ongoing need to request forgiveness”.  Or, as Paul so eloquently put it:

Ro 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Just in case someone still thinks all of this is no big deal, let me remind (or is it inform?) you how Hosea starts off.

Hos 1:2 When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” 3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

Yes – Israel – God’s people – was so bad that God has His prophet marry an adulterous wife to show the people just how unfaithful they were to God.  Do you really want to have that example apply to you?  We need to think about the things we do, even at work, and consider how God views our actions.  How awful would it be for God to tell us that we need to do what Hosea did?

OK – how about one more of the Ten Commandments?

Coveting

Ex 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

You may say you don’t covet someone’s house, and certainly not their ox or donkey.  No?  What happens when someone default’s on a mortgage for which they can’t afford the interest – like with an interest-only mortgage?  Answer – they lose the house.  What happens when they can’t afford the car that came via a subprime loan with a high interest rate?  You say the loan terms were justified by their bad credit, of course.  Regardless – they lose it.  It’s not a donkey or an ox. It’s a car.  Is the difference really worth arguing over?

And many will say that they, as individuals, don’t get the house, or the car.  But the company does.  And while some will try to hide behind the claim that it’s just business – it’s just the big banks – it’s the corporations – are there not people running all those things and setting up the rules for them?

Have I made my point yet?  In fact, doesn’t the point keep getting worse and worse?  And made stronger and stronger?

What does the article say?

So – let’s see what the article from Bloomberg had to say.

In the years after the financial crisis, buyout firms poured billions into auto finance, angling for the big profits that come with offering high-interest loans to buyers with the weakest credit. At rates of 11 percent or more, there was plenty to be made as sales boomed. But now, with new car demand waning, they’ve found the intense competition — and the lax underwriting standards it fostered — are taking a toll on profits.

After all the money the “corporations” made and all the money / housing former homeowners lost in the last financial crisis – there needs to be a way to make more money.  This time, it’s high interest loans for cars.  And again the targets for these loans are people who can be charged high interest rates.  Oh yeah – subprime loans to the people who are least likely to be able to pay off the loan.

The article continues.

Delinquencies on subprime loans made by non-bank lenders are soaring toward crisis levels. Fresh investment has dried up and some of the big banks, long seen as potential suitors, have pulled back from the auto lending business. To top it off, state regulators are circling the industry, asking whether it preyed on borrowers and put them in cars they couldn’t afford.

As expected, loans are going delinquent.  The “corporations” are pulling back.  The “government” is looking into the “corporations”.  But what happens?  The government brings in money from fining the corporations.  But the corporations are still OK, because they’ve already made a ton of money, and now they are also starting to own cars.  True – the market for these cars is low.  For now.  Fear not – I’m sure the corporations will be just fine.  The government will make sure of that.

But again, I have to ask – are not the government and the corporations made up of people?  And are not these people subject to everything I laid out at the top of the article?  This is not just “corporations” doing bad things.  And it’s not just the “government” allowing these things to happen.  It’s people.  People taking advantage of other people.  And other people allowing it to happen.

There’s more.

The apparent turnabout represents a sobering shift in what has been a booming market. Since the turn of the decade, buyout firms, hedge funds and other private investors have staked at least $3 billion on non-bank auto lenders, according to Colonnade. Among PE firms, everyone from Blackstone and KKR & Co. to Lee Equity Partners, Altamont Capital and CIVC Partners waded in.

Many targeted smaller finance companies that often catered to the least creditworthy borrowers with nowhere else to turn. Overall, subprime car loans — those extended to people with credit scores of 620 or lower — have increased 72 percent since 2011. Last year, about 20 percent of all new car loans went to subprime borrowers.

Good business?  Or taking advantage of people?  And remember – it is people taking advantage of people.

And then there’s this.

“We’re concerned about the company’s ability to earn a satisfactory return,” S&P said in August.

I have a strong desire to use a four-letter word here.

Do you know what I want to ask?
Do you know what’s missing in all of this?

Who is concerned about the people who are targeted by the people running these companies?

Who is concerned about the government not doing much of anything other than making money off the fines they collect from these people who are running these businesses that are merely following the rules set by the people in the government who apparently fail – again and again – to protect the very people they are supposed to be watching out for?

The problem

We already saw the first instance of the word interest in the Bible.  Let’s see some more.

Lev 25:35 “ ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit. 38 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.”

Notice where it says, so he can continue to live among you.  Now, think back to Just as the sixth commandment prohibits murder, so the eighth prohibits what might be called “social murder,” that is, the cutting off of a man or woman from a life of freedom within the community of God’s people.

So, social murder involves taking someone’s home, so they have no place to live.  Social murder involves taking someone’s car, so they cannot get to work, cannot earn a living, and therefore will also lose their home.  Either of these scenarios means a person, a couple, or even an entire family with kids is now homeless.  Can one get any more removed from the community?

In case you’re thinking these are bad examples, let me give you a real-life scenario.  Someone I met and spoke with, through our church providing temporary living space for homeless families with children, ended up homeless because the husband’s plumbing tools were stolen.  It wasn’t even a house or a car.  It was tools.  He worked as a day laborer.  No tools = no job.  No job = even worse than subprime.  They didn’t even have the money to get new tools.  The family lost their home.  The parents and the kids ended up on the street.  It’s real.  True – it’s a different “beginning” to their downfall.  However, if anything, it shows how even “small” things can end up in disaster.

And there’s more.  There’s the living wage issue.  Companies want to pay people such a small amount of money, with little to no health insurance or other benefits, that they can’t afford to live anywhere near where they work.  The claim is that the work they do just isn’t worth paying more.  And yet, at what point can we continue to face people we do business with, knowing that we frequent a business that refused to pay enough for them to live?

 At what point will at least the Christians among us start to think about If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, means the person who has to live a long ways off to take care of our needs?  And that we are OK with them being so poor that they can’t live “among us”?  And I’m not even talking the super rich – the one percent.  I’m talking about the rest of us – who are OK living in our nice neighborhoods, while our barista’s, waiters and others have to live on what used to be called “the other side of the tracks”?

How did we get where we are?  How does this happen?  Because but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you, is something that too many of us just don’t do.

Proverbs talks about God’s redistribution of wealth plan.

Pr 28:8 He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest
amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.

It doesn’t seem like this happens anymore.  The ultra-rich today donate to causes that have their names, because they feel bad, and other reasons.  See Why do rich people give their money away?   But being kind to the poor because that’s what God wants us to do?  It’s out of style.

The thing is, we humans can only subvert God’s wishes for as long as He allows us to get away with it.  At some point, God will step in.  Further, at the end of our lives, we will have something to answer for.

The Sheep and the Goats

Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Mt 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

I wonder how many “Christians” will be surprised like this?  Especially among the ones who are so visibly “Christian”?  Or will it be the Christians that the elite ones look down on?  Will it be any different than the Jewish leaders putting in lots of coins to make it noticeable how much they donated?

I wonder too, will it even be non-Christians?  People who took care of others, but didn’t go to church?

Mt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Mt 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Mt 25:44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

How many “Christians” donate to the “right” charities?  But then they miss everything else around them?  Jesus didn’t say these words just to hear Himself speak.  There were warnings.  And we’d do well to pay attention to them.  And then examine ourselves, as David did.

Mt 25:45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Mt 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Which do you think you would come out as?  Sheep?  or Goat?  BTW – it’s “goat”, not “G.O.A.T.”.  It’s not “Greatest Of All Time”.  It’s more like the ones who don’t care.

One last example – this one both a statement about Israel in Old Testament times, and about us today.

Jerusalem’s Sins

Eze 22:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, will you judge her? Will you judge this city of bloodshed? Then confront her with all her detestable practices 3 and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols, 4 you have become guilty because of the blood you have shed and have become defiled by the idols you have made. You have brought your days to a close, and the end of your years has come. Therefore I will make you an object of scorn to the nations and a laughingstock to all the countries. 5 Those who are near and those who are far away will mock you, O infamous city, full of turmoil.

Eze 22:6 “ ‘See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. 7 In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow. 8 You have despised my holy things and desecrated my Sabbaths. 9 In you are slanderous men bent on shedding blood; in you are those who eat at the mountain shrines and commit lewd acts. 10 In you are those who dishonor their fathers’ bed; in you are those who violate women during their period, when they are ceremonially unclean. 11 In you one man commits a detestable offense with his neighbor’s wife, another shamefully defiles his daughter-in-law, and another violates his sister, his own father’s daughter. 12 In you men accept bribes to shed blood; you take usury and excessive interest and make unjust gain from your neighbors by extortion. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign LORD.

Eze 22:13 “ ‘I will surely strike my hands together at the unjust gain you have made and at the blood you have shed in your midst. 14 Will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day I deal with you? I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it. 15 I will disperse you among the nations and scatter you through the countries; and I will put an end to your uncleanness. 16 When you have been defiled in the eyes of the nations, you will know that I am the LORD.’ ”

Yes – it says “Jerusalem’s Sins”.  Remember though, this is also a prophecy.  About us.  Today.  And it’s not good.

12 In you men accept bribes to shed blood; you take usury and excessive interest and make unjust gain from your neighbors by extortion. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign LORD.

And remember what I said earlier about God stepping in at some point.  Trust me, the “striking my hands together” in the verse below isn’t God clapping – giving applause for our great behavior.

Eze 22:13 “ ‘I will surely strike my hands together at the unjust gain you have made and at the blood you have shed in your midst. 14 Will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day I deal with you? I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.

What’s missing?

Do you have it figured out?
Do you know what’s missing?

Here’s one final clue.  It’s about the Ten Commandments.  Yes – the rules again.

However, before we go there, let’s remove any question about whether or not this applies to us today.

The Fulfillment of the Law

Mt 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

And so, with that settled, let’s get to the last clue.

The Context of the Commandments.

The commandments are inseparable from the covenant. The making of a covenant between God and Israel at Sinai was the formation of a particular relationship. God made certain commitments to Israel and in return imposed certain obligations upon Israel. Although Israel’s obligations are expressed in detail in a mass of precise legal material, they are given their most precise and succinct expression in the Ten Commandments. The commandments set down the most fundamental principles of all Hebrew law, and the detailed laws contained in the Pentateuch are for the most part applications of the principles to particular situations. Thus, the role of the Ten Commandments in ancient Israel was to give direction to a relationship. They were not to be obeyed simply for the sake of obedience, as though obedience accumulated some kind of credit. Rather, they were to be obeyed in order to discover that life in which the fullness and richness of a relationship with God.

The commandments in ancient Israel were not an ethical code or compilation of advice on the fundamentals of morality. The covenant was between God and a nation; the commandments were directed toward the life of that nation and its citizens. Consequently, the initial role of the commandments was similar to that of criminal law in a modern state. Israel was a theocracy, a state whose king was God (Dt 33:5). The commandments provided guidance to the citizens of that state. In addition, to break a commandment was to commit a crime against the state and the ruler of that state, God. Thus the penalties were severe, for the breaking of the commandments threatened the covenant relationship and the continued existence of the state. This state context is important for understanding the commandments in their initial form.  [9]Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Ten Commandments, The. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2042). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Some of what goes on with things like these predatory housing and car loans – the unreasonable interest rates – the subprime loans – the targeting of people who can least afford to take on the loans – it’s awful.  People’s lives are destroyed.

As the article says – there are concerns about whether or not the companies can stay in business.  If they don’t, the people at the top lose their big incomes.  If they don’t stay in business, the shareholders lose money.  When they go out of business, the top employees will find jobs someplace else – probably doing something very similar, to the very same people.

But who asks about the people who’s lives are destroyed?

Well, for one, God does.

If you’ve learned one thing from this article, hopefully it’s at least that it’s important to consider the way we treat people.  God’s people.  He created me.  And you.  And everyone else on the planet.  So, when we sin against any person, it’s a sin against God as well.  When we take advantage of someone, we’ve taken advantage of someone God created, and therefore are (trying to) take advantage of Him as well.  And while we may succeed in taking advantage of many people in this life – we will fail in the end.  No one takes advantage of God.

Wisdom from “The Teacher”

I’m not going to explain the passage below.  I’ll just say that if you’re involved in the kind of stuff we looked at above, and you think this justifies what you do – or tells you that you’re doing the right thing – or anything even remotely like that – you’ve got it wrong.

The passage is from Ecclesiastes.  It’s by Qoheleth.  The Teacher.  Solomon.  The book is full of wisdom.  And sarcasm.  It’s important to know which is which.  But I’m not going to tell you.  You need to find that out for yourself.  I suspect that, if you’re a victim – you’ll get this.  If you’re a person who victimizes others, either you won’t get it, or you’ll want to change to a new profession.

So – here it is.

Riches Are Meaningless

Ecc 5:8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.

Ecc 5:10 Whoever loves money never has money enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless.

Ecc 5:11 As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owner
except to feast his eyes on them?

Ecc 5:12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether he eats little or much,
but the abundance of a rich man
permits him no sleep.

Ecc 5:13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner,

Ecc 5:14 or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when he has a son
there is nothing left for him.

Ecc 5:15 Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb,
and as he comes, so he departs.
He takes nothing from his labor
that he can carry in his hand.

Ecc 5:16 This too is a grievous evil:
As a man comes, so he departs,
and what does he gain,
since he toils for the wind?

Ecc 5:17 All his days he eats in darkness,
with great frustration, affliction and anger.

Ecc 5:18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. 20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

Conclusion – Interest rates, subprime loans, and warnings from the Bible

At the very beginning, I wrote:

If Wall Street even existed, it would maybe have been the path along the Wailing Wall along the west side of the temple.  But that’s a whole different kind of wall.  Although, not entirely unrelated.

Here’s why I said the two walls are somewhat related.

Wall Street – that’s symbolic of the businesses and people who do the things above.  If you work there or at a place like the ones we looked at, maybe you’re ready to visit the Wailing Wall – or someplace like it.  Someplace to cry out to God about the things you – we – have done in our lives.  Things we did to other people.  Things we did in the name of the company.  But really in the name of money.  To God’s people.

When we go to that Wailing Wall kind of place, we’ll meet other people there.  Like the ones we’ve abused and taken advantage of along the path of our lives.  There’s a good chance they’re already crying out to God.  For relief.  Relief from the likes of us.

The Good News is – there’s hope for all of us.

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

That last paragraph is for you.  Whoever you are – it’s for you.

Unless you don’t want it.  Bet even then, it’s still for you.  But you can reject it.

Your reactions to things like what’s in this article are part of deciding whether or not you want it.  Not just the words, “I want it”.  It’s what’s in your heart.  Evidence of it can be seen in your life.

More precisely, for this article, will your love of money – the things you do to get it, for instance essentially stealing from others (including God) – will your love of money mean your answer is “thanks, but no thanks”?

Jesus didn’t die to save a corporation.
He died to save us.  Rich and poor.  Employed or not.  Everyone.

That company taking advantage of people isn’t going to save anyone.  If anything, it will lead people to condemning themselves, because of the things done in the name of that company, as if we can remove ourselves from responsibility.

Say yes to His offer of salvation – not just in words, but in the way you live.


Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

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